Report: Working women boosted economic growth by $1.7T since 1979

A surge of hours worked by women over the past 35 years has boosted household incomes as well as economic growth, a new report showed on Tuesday. 

The economy cranked out about $1.7 trillion more output in 2012, about 11 percent higher than 1979, as women, including mothers, worked more, according to a report released by the Center for American Progress and the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Heather Boushey, the CAP's senior fellow and co-author of the report, said while most research has focused on how women’s increasing work hours have affected them and the economic well-being of their families, this paper explores how much women’s earnings have strengthened the middle class and the overall economy.

“The finding that the movement of women out of the home has significantly affected GDP and the middle class makes the need to restructure our employment standards for the reality of the 21st century workforce even more urgent," she said. 

The median annual hours worked by women increased 739 hours between 1979 and 2012, with all of the increase happening between 1979 and 2000. 

Meanwhile, median annual hours of work by mothers increased even more dramatically, rising 960 hours from 1979 to 2012, again with all of the increase occurring by 2000.

The share of mothers who work full time and full year — at least 35 hours per week and 50 weeks per year — rose to 46 percent in 2007 from 27.3 in 1979 before declining to 44.1 percent after the economic downturn.

Full-time, full-year employment for all women increased from 28.6 percent in 1979 to 43.6 percent in 2007 before declining to 40.7 percent in 2012.

The report concludes that middle-class households would have substantially lower earnings today if women’s employment patterns had remained unchanged over the past three decades.

The report argues that the data should provide a fresh urgency to improving labor standards.

"Even as mothers and women are making significant contributions to the U.S. economy, they continue to do so within a set of outdated workplace norms that are completely unsuited to the 21st century workforce in which most parents work out of the home and must juggle both work and family responsibilities," the report said.

The report recommends giving workers more control over their schedules with a right-to-request law, instituting a national family and medical leave insurance program, and allowing workers to earn paid sick days.